Relationship Series: Shared Values
This is the second post in my Relationship Series and will cover the importance of shared values in your relationship. Values are important in your partnership because values are going to help define what is important to you as individuals and as a couple. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree on everything, but it is important that you agree on the issues that you define as most important.
We get our values from many different places. Our parents, our communities, our beliefs, and our broader culture all help to shape our value systems. The great thing about values though, is that as you grow and learn more about yourself and the world we live in you will get to decide what your own most important values are.
When you enter into a relationship with another person, you might find that you share a lot of common values and beliefs, or you may find that you clash on some issues. However, learning to refine and validate your own value systems will help clarify for you as a couple what is most important for your future together.
When I work with couples in therapy, we often spend time defining those shared values and learning how to use those values to strengthen the relationship and find common ground to work through conflicts. We do this by going through a few steps to explore and clarify those values. You can also work on clarifying values with your partner by processing what your most important values are, exploring how you developed those values, and deciding how important your individual values are to your relationship as a couple.
Look over the following values and number them 1 through 10 as to what is most important to you. You should do this individually, and then talk together about your responses and see if you both have similar priorities.
- Financial Wealth
- Career Success
- Political beliefs
- Free time
If you share a lot of these values and rank them similarly, this means that you have a great strength in your relationship that you can use to guide you when you have conflicts. If you find that your answers are extremely divergent, then this tells you that as a couple you may often have clashes over significant value differences, and it may be difficult to reconcile those divergent values.
How To Know What Is Important
Clarifying your own values can help you figure out if there are conflicts that you have been having as a couple that are not really in line with what your most important values are. For example, if Peace is a really important value to you, but you find that you are having a lot of arguments over things that are less important to you than peace, then this tells you that perhaps you have been placing too much emphasis and wasting too much energy on those conflicts.
Alternatively, if you are having significant conflict over perhaps the division of chores in the home, you may discover that Fairness is really important to one or both of you. While arguing over chores may seem petty from afar, if this is a value that is not being upheld in the home, this presents an opportunity to talk as a couple about how that value can be better incorporated into your relationship so that there are fewer conflicts in this area.
The good news is that you as a couple get to decide what is most important to both of you. Understanding what is most important to your partner as well can help you to find common ground and understand each other better, which will lead to better conflict resolution.
Where Do Your Values Come From?
Another important step in understand your shared values is to understand where your values came from. You may have learned to value certain things because of your parent’s values, or because of certain experiences you have had in your life.
For example, if you have ever experienced poverty or economic instability in your life, this could be an important part of why financial stability is important to you. While some people may say or believe that money is not important to the relationship, you may find that your individual experiences shape why your values may be different in some areas.
You may also discover that your own values do not necessarily line up with the values that society imparts on all of us, or you might discover that while your parents may have upheld certain values when you were growing up but you no longer share all their beliefs or values.
Ask yourself what values are important for you to live by, and then ask yourself if you are actually living by those values. If you find that you value respect, but you know that you have not always been respectful to your partner, then this is an area that you can start to work on so that you are more closely living by your own values.
Using Shared Values to Resolve Conflict
Once you have talked as a couple about what your individual and shared values are, then you can move on to discussing how to apply those values to the conflicts that you are having. Have a discussion about how any conflicts that you have had related to the values that you have decided are most important to you.
This may also mean that you recognize that a conflict you’ve had actually doesn’t reflect your values, which means that you can use that information to change how you resolve conflict in the future.
For example, let’s say an argument occurs because one partner brought home some friends late at night that their partner didn’t know or feel comfortable around. One partner may rationalize that they should be able to bring home whomever they want to their home, and feel irritated at their partner for getting upset. However, if through a discussion they can recognize that this act didn’t live up to their shared values of safety and respect, then they may be able to better understand their partner’s discomfort at the situation. Understanding the importance of shared values and the role they play in the strength of your relationship can help you both make decisions that are a good reflection of the values you want to uphold.
No one feels good when they fall short of their own values. We can often feel shame, embarrassment, or defensiveness when our actions do not match our own values. Recognizing that your values are an important part of who you are and making conscious attempts with your partner to center your shared values in your relationship will help strengthen your partnership and resolve conflict in a healthier way.
For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship” and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.
For other posts in this series, check out:
Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication
Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy
Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership
Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship
Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences
Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership